ST JOHN’S, Antigua, December 24, 2008 – A flow control system implemented by air traffic controllers at the VC Bird International Airport in Antigua has been disrupting flights in and out of the island during the Christmas rush.
Airlines have reported having to delay and cancel flights since the reduced pace of air traffic clearances due to what the workers say is an increase in flights during this Yuletide season.
And while the slowdown comes amidst calls from air traffic controllers for a pay increase, they have insisted the move is not industrial action. A press release from the Guild of Antigua and Barbuda Air Traffic Control Officers (GABATCO) said that the flow control system is implemented when there is an anticipated high volume of air traffic; a degradation of air traffic control equipment such as the radar, communication radios and navigational aids; or a reduction in air traffic control personnel.
But Captain George Arthurton, Director of Flight Operations at LIAT – one of the airlines affected by the new system – has contended that the airport was no busier than any other Christmas period and he could see no reason for the restrictions.
He added that LIAT employees were working normally and the airline had no control over the current situation.
“This is a very difficult situation for us,” he said, as he apologised to customers and advised them to prepare for possible delays.
LIAT Chief Executive Officer Mark Darby said the slowdown has affected the airline both financially and otherwise.
“We have incurred considerable losses as we’ve been paying for hotels, meals transportation for those passengers affected by this action,” he told SKNVibes in St Kitts. “It’s not just substantial financial losses being incurred as a result of this, but it it’s also a loss of reputation. We are doing our best to get LIAT back on the straight and narrow and every time there’s something like this, it really sets us back.”
The Antigua-based airline has itself been facing agitation from its pilots over pay and other issues.
They had threatened industrial action in the New Year. However, after intervention by the country’s tourism Minister Harold Lovell, the two sides agreed that their dispute would be dealt with over the next 28 days, during which time there will be no industrial action by the Leeward Islands Air Line Pilots’ Association (LIALPA), or any other action which may alter the normal operations of the company.
According to the Antigua Sun, it was also agreed that they would submit to binding arbitration should any dispute arise from negotiations for a new collective agreement that is not settled by 31 March, 2009.